The Madonna del cardellino or Madonna of the Goldfinch is a painting by the Italian renaissance artist Raphael, from c. 1505-1506. A 10-year restoration process was completed in 2008, after which the painting will eventually be returned to its home at the Uffizi in Florence. The painting was replaced in the gallery with an antique copy during the restoration.
In this painting, as in most of the Madonnas of his Florentine period, Raphael arranged the three figures – Mary, Christ and the young John the Baptist – to fit into a geometrical design. Though the positions of the three bodies are natural, together they form an almost regular triangle.
The Virgin is holding a book, with identifies her as Sedes Sapientiae (“Seat of Wisdom”). The goldfinch is a symbol of Christ’s future violent death. St. John offers the goldfinch to Christ in warning of his future.
The Madonna was a wedding gift from Raphael to his friend Lorenzo Nasi. On November 17, 1548 Nasi’s house was destroyed by an earthquake and the painting broke into seventeen pieces. It was restored shortly afterwards, but the damage is [was] still visible.
(European) goldfinches have red on their heads, seen as a symbol of blood.
Vasari recounts in his book The Lives of the Artists that Raphael, who died aged 37 at the peak of his powers, was brought down by excessive passion. This view of health is medieval: the body is controlled by humours, health depends on a balance of humours, and Raphael’s was destabilised by too much action in bed. Well, it’s a theory: here.